Hunting the Wumpus

Reading the ebook about computing in the 60s and 70s, I learned about the HP 2100, a computer that could serve up to 32 users at the same time.

This computer did not have screens, but wrote everything on this kind of “printer+keyboard”, a teletype.

Everything that should appear on the screen, was instead printed on paper by the teletype, that could be far, connected by phone.

This computer was very expensive, around $100k, so it was reserved for academic, military or business users. Of course, when someone is bored, will play games. This is a game that it’s still possible to play today, by writing

telnet mickey.publicvm.com

your PC will connect to this HP 2100 simulator and will let you play to this “pre-historical” games (a note: in some Windows versions, the telnet command is not preinstalled)

How does it work? First of all, imagine being in a cave with 20 rooms, all interconnected. This is a drawing from the original programmer:In a room could be a deadly pit, some huge bats that will bring you somewhere else at random, or the Wumpus. If the monster is inside that room, it could be startled and run in an adjacent cave (75% chance) or it could eat us (25%).

When the teletype prints out our adventure, you should image the map:

Of course, for today standards this is unplayable, but it’s interesting to see how computer games were played 45 years ago.

I did a gameplay video:

Or you could play this javascript version: https://osric.com/wumpus/

In California Games I can’t use the keyboard, what to do?

If you try to run California Games (1987) in DOSBox o in other emulators like IBMulator or PCem, you will see that the keyboard doesn’t work at all, so you can’t play as you couldn’t pass the “enter your name” screen.

That’s because this particular game supports only standard (at the time) keyboards, not extended keyboards. (Right now all the keyboards we use are extended)

MS-DOS, since version 5.0, has a command to insert in config.sys to simulate a standard keyboard with an extended keyboard:

SWITCHES /K

With this, the game will recognize your keyboard. Video (I totally suck at this game):

Be careful: a “standard” keyboard doesn’t have the function keys (F1, F2, and so on), so if you insert this command in the config.sys you could have problems with other games/programs. If that’s the case, it’s better to create a boot disk only for California Games (that already has a big memory bug, it won’t start if too much standard memory is available)

If you use DOSBox instead of a full PC emulator, you have to boot from that DOS in order to let it see the command. Assuming you have a working install of DOS 5.0 or higher on c: , you have to run it with:

boot -l c

Go back to the 80s

Reading the “historical” articles on Filfre.net and watching the Halt and Catch fire TV series, I got hit by nostalgia, from when I was playing with my AMD 386 DX, still in service until the end of the 90s.

So, I immediately downloaded PCem and 86box, searching for the BIOS ROMs of my old PCs. I got a lot of problems, but I will talk about that another time. Then I found IBMulator and I immediately reminded my friend and his old PS/1. Even if when it was introduced (1990) was already incredibly outdated (a 286 CPU when you could buy a PC with a 486… of course with a much higher price), I was impressed because of its “simplified” OS, very fast to load.

In a few minutes, I found all the files on https://ps1stuff.wordpress.com/download/downloads-for-type-2011/ (even n my language!!!) and I immediately did a manual restore on the empty virtual disk (if you bought a new system at the time, this was already done in the factory, you just needed to turn it on)

This emulator is awesome, it simulates all the disk and floppy noises, and also the CRT screen. But it also simulates the fan noise, that at the time was very noisy πŸ˜…

I got some initial problem to let it load the OS from the floppy. That error “press F1” at the start, means something changed in the system, for example, more memory, or a new hard drive, you need to confirm by running the “configuration” program.

In total, I took about 15 minutes, to copy 5 megabytes from 4 floppy disks… so slow! I forgot this part!

The real April Fools from the Google Japanese Input team

Like every year, the team behind Google’s Japanese keyboard for Android has come up with a new innovative way to write with the keyboard, drawing kana on a keyboard.

IThe video explains the mechanism in a funny way.

What’s more interesting, is that, as they did with the “flick keyboard”, this project actually exists, the source code is on GitHub, available for everyone!

Did you remember the joke “with morse code you type much faster“from Google (USA)? 4 faked screenshots, and nothing real… but obviously the japanese team created a real device πŸ˜‚ (Video, source code)

And every year new, crazy ideas:

  • Write using a party horn (Video, source code) – perfect for when your hands are busy or it’s not appropriate to use vocal dictation (crying kid)
  • Write using bubble wrap like a punched card (Video, source code)
  • Write scrolling letter by letter on a flipping display, like the ones at stations and airports (Video, source code)

Fresh Goji Berries

Have you ever heard of goji berries? They are becoming popular here, in Italy.

Leaving aside the fact that marketing gives them miraculous properties while increasing 5000% the original price, I have always wondered why it’s always dry, it’s not fresh, even when you buy it in China. I am curious to taste them.

The answer is easy, and I discovered it by looking at the documentary below this article (audio in Chinese, subtitles in English). Simply… the berries are very delicate, the skin is very fragile, so they are dried immediately, for preserving them. The only way to try a fresh one is to go personally in deserts of northwestern China during the harvesting period and collect them yourself. (Read: I probably will never have the chance to taste them)

Creative ads: Future with bright lights

Kandenko, a japanese firm that does electric works, has done this ads for their brand identity. With simple cardboard shapes and a conductive ink marker they did a masterpiece:

If you want to know about the company name: right now it’s KanDenKo (ι–’ι›»ε·₯), that’s short for Kantou Denki Kouji (閒東電気ε·₯δΊ‹) – Kanto electric works.

Japanese socks

This one in the picture is the sock I’m talking about.

Quite normal, maybe it does not deserve a full story on DanDanDin, but who knows…

It all starts out outside the Toei Studio Park in Kyoto. It is a park/film studio where hundreds of movies and TV series are recorded, set in the samurai era.

The surroundings do not offer many options, but being a bit far from the city center, and having gone there on purpose, I decided to explore the whole area, making a “discovery”.

I see a “Lawson 100”, a little different from the normal ones.

The Lawson are small shops, called コンビニ, convenience stores, which have virtually everything you need for everyday life. Being small, it doesn’t offer a big variety, but they have a solution for every eventuality. I made some videos, but I do not remember if I published them… I have hundreds of videos waiting forever to be edited/published…

In short, normally a Lawson has two characteristics:

  • The corporate colors are white and blue
  • Every object for sale has its price

Instead, this is the “Lawson 100”, from outside:

(I was so ecstatic that I forgot to take photos or videos of it, this comes from Google Maps…)

Green and white, with the 100 doing a wink πŸ˜‰

Never seen before. Intrigued, I enter the store, and I noticed something weird.

“Ah well, this drink costs 100 yen (1 euro) instead of 120 that ask from other parts”

“Um, this onigiri costs 100 yen instead of 140”

“Hey even these snacks cost 100 yen”

…and then I realize it! Everything costs 100 yen! I love 100 yen shops like Daiso! (Daiso is a chain of stores where everything is sold for 100 yen)

I start to look at everything, buying a lot of stuff. For example, I took these “fettuccine”, cola flavor.

Then I see them there, on the shelf. Three socks for 100 yen, one size. Beautiful! I had already taken a package of 5 for 500 yen from GU (a clothing chain) and they were of excellent quality, but a pair of socks is always useful. I’ll take them right away!

They are a single size and are very tight…

The futuristic Xiaomi facial recognition

On my Xiaomi Mi 5X, after installing one of the BETA weekly updates, a new feature appeared: unlocking the phone with facial recognition, iPhone X style.

Intrigued, I immediately activated it, but I had with very low expectations: while on iPhone X there is a 3D scanner that can recognize an “alive” face from a photo, on other phones is much more “basic”, since it uses the front camera.

Anyway, I do not have anything important on the phone, so the possibility that someone else can unlock the phone by showing a picture of me is not a big deal.

I immediately saw how convenient it was: I raise the phone, the screen turns on automatically, I look at it, it unlocks. Fantastic. Indeed, better than iPhone X, because you do not have to swipe your finger to confirm, and anyway, I could always unlock via fingerprint on the back sensor! The best of both worlds!

Then one evening I went out and the phone unlocked in an almost completely dark room. Wow, in this room it’s so dark that I can not recognize people with my own eyes, how the phone could manage this?. Then I thought… an iPhone X uses some kind of Kinect (Apple acquired the company that invented the Kinect sensor a few years ago) and manages to see in 3D in absolute darkness, while my phone uses a common photo sensor, not able to see in the dark.

What a Kinect can see in the dark

I tried the recognition on an Asian face and it unlocked! I had low expectations on security, but I did not imagine that he was totally incapable of distinguishing an Asian face from a European face!

I immediately disabled it…

Coin Crypt

Cryptocoins! No, Coin Crypt it’s a 4-5 years old game, that I got as a gift on Steam a few years ago.

How does it work: without a tutorial, you’re on a Pacific island, on the ruins of an ancient coin-based civilization. Soon, you have to understand that some coins can be used for attacks, other for defense, some of them heal, and some… have just a monetary value: so you have to prepare a strategy, don’t waste coins on weak monsters (no coins = game over), spend them in donations, and so on.

If you have an Xbox controller the interface it’s very easy, you OK with the right trigger, you choose the coins with the buttons shown on screen. If, like me, you use a Dualshock 4, either you have already got muscle memory about the different buttons (X = square, A = X, and so on), either you’re going to suffer a bit.

Technically the game is easy: there are three random levels, a final boss, and victory! Basically, it all depends on your luck/patience/strategy/choices.

The more you play, the more coins you can spend to unlock other characters, with many different personalities. For example, the ghost will find more coins, but will lose them on the road; the monkey will use all the coins in the hand during a battle, it can be a good thing, but also a disaster.

As a game, it’s easy to learn, but hard to master: in order to fully completing it you need a lot of patience and time. If like me, you have small patience and less time… after a few game overs, you’re going to be bored.

There’s also a daily challenge, all the players try the same world with the same character, competing for the highest score.

About crypto coins in coin crypt… during a game, you can find a computer. If you spend a coin on it you can mine a crypto coin… with a value, like almost in the real value, totally volatile and unpredictable, as it changes randomly at the beginning of the level.

Searching for the perfect speed

Since I got the crazy idea to radically change this website engine, from Windows+mojoPortal to Linux+PHP, I noticed that I need a LOT of more CPU time to generate each page:

cpu-year

It uses a lot of processor time, but requests are much more faster… if the page has been “cached”:

http_loadtime-year

In my experiments I saw that the forum that I was using (bbpress) slows down the site a lot: it loads a lot of useless javascript in all pages, and doesn’t allow “caching” the pages. So I temporarily disabled the forum, searching for a temporary solution. I’m thinking to use Discourse